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Now we’re getting somewhere. I can’t help but think that Pizzolatto is playing me like a fiddle: the first two episodes were so mean-spirited, so vulgar, and with the third we finally get glimmers of what made the first season so great. Maybe Pizzolatto knows what he’s doing? It’s hard to say – this was a passable episode of television, not a great one – except now I’m not so ready to throw in the towel.

Directed by Janus Metz Pedersen, “Maybe Tomorrow” was quick to dispel the “cliffhanger” of episode two. Ray is not dead – the trigger man used buckshot – but now he walks awkwardly, with wounds that mirror his psychological ones. The episode’s opening scenes had David Lynch themes to it: there is some sparse, strange dialogue involving Ray and his father (Fred Ward) that play out like a depressing vision of purgatory. Ray wakes up, and now the case must go forward.

In my recap last week, I focused a lot on Pizzolatto’s point of view. He seemed to celebrate the ugliness of his characters, and while he does not exactly condemn this week, we finally get people we’re obviously supposed to dislike. They’re the Chessanis (the mayor’s family), and the Ani and Ray’s visit to their home is the season’s first real bit of genuine moralizing. The mother is tragic, a drugged-out, beautiful woman who cannot find a purpose with her age, but the son is a real piece of work. Ray and Ani hide their contempt for his fake accent, and we get finally get what Pizzolatto is going for. Ray and Ani are terrible people, maybe not even great cops, yet they’re shrewd judges of character. After the self-indulgent point of view of the first episodes, we finally see how they’re avatars for the audience.

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“Maybe Tomorrow” is more workmanlike than the first two episodes of this season, with fewer formal flourishes, and an added attention toward plot. California feels like less of a “character” here, as most of the dialogue is based around interviews, either by the detectives or of them. The only scene that is defines the region here happens at a film shoot: Ray and Ani visit the set of some post-apocalyptic bullshit that involved Caspere, and it’s meant to seem surreal. I don’t think Pizzolatto is contemptuous of genre filmmaking, exactly, and the scene is meant to highlight how California is not Louisiana, but still just as weird. There is no Lovecraft-ian horror, yet the state is unseemly in its own way.

Unsurprisingly, the best scene of the episode is a callback to the first season. Pizzolatto honors his namesake when the detectives are being interviewed, not the other way around, and Pedersen cuts between them to show the unspoken, hallowed bond between partners. Ray and Ani are grilled by their respective superiors – representatives of Vinci and the state – and they’re so cagey and obtuse that it’s thrilling. I don’t think they trust each other, exactly, but they both reach the conclusion that, for this case anyway, they cannot trust the people to whom they report. At this point, their bond is like the one between Rust and Marty from season one, minus the philosophizing. Pizzolatto has an ear for parallel dialogue, both in terms of cadence and what it can reveal. The chase scene that end the episode has action, yet it’s not exactly thrilling in the way the interrogation is: hopefully the season continues with moments where we can see just how the detectives think.

I don’t want to gloat since it was so obvious, but I was right about Paul’s character arc. His alleged blowjob, his impotence, and his leering of gay partiers all point toward one thing: Paul is attracted to men. It’s unclear whether he’s gay or bisexual, yet his scene with his army buddy has an element of tragedy to it. This is not fresh territory – I wouldn’t be surprised if Pizzolatto never watched Brokeback Mountain – but Kitsch finally has a chance for depth through self-loathing (the most reliable tool for the series). It’s unclear how Paul’s arc will play into the larger scheme of things, but between this and Ani’s obsession with hardcore pornography, Pizzolatto comes off as a prude. He sees all non-hetero, non-procreative sexuality as some sort of vice, something that must be overcome rather than accepted, and it’s to the point where it hurts his position as a cynical, wise chronicler of human behavior.

While the three actual cops are floundering, Frank honors the show’s title in a way that’s almost ironic. Sure, Frank is desperate and returning to his gangster ways, but his intimidation tactics demonstrate a sort of intelligence we haven’t seen from the actual cops. Maybe Frank could have been in a detective in another life, but here he only has his Machiavellian fear: in a scene that almost plays for comedy, Frank beats the shit out of the pimp in order to reassert his dominance. The line about Danny’s rings is full of posturing, the sort of Pizzolatto affectation that tilts the show toward greatness. It’s impossible to determine how self-aware the dialogue is meant to be, although intent is immaterial with a scene like this. Camp or not, it works as entertainment.

The major revelation in “Maybe Tomorrow” has little to do with Caspere, and everything to do with Pizzolatto’s point of view. His heroes are all miserable, yet there are people for whom they have justified contempt. This becomes clear with the Mayor, a misogynist who throws around the word “cunt” with zeal, and it is even clearer with Ray’s father. Fred Ward is a terrific character actor, and he plays Ray’s father as a little man, the sort of guy who misses institutional racism and loathes anything we might see as progress. Pizzolatto finally takes pity on Ray and the audience by extension: Ray hates his father and respects his jobs – he was a detective, too – and so we finally get some sense of Ray’s code (however distorted it might be). Pizzolatto is an indulgent writer, but he just might know what he’s doing.

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